The Holy Trinity - Series C
Text: John 8:48-59
Title: “The Mystery”
Date: Sunday, June 16, 2019
Pastor Steve Bocklage
Did you enjoy mystery stories as a youngster? Mysteries like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew? I once saw a good mystery book titled: "What REALLY Happened to Humpty?: From the Files of a Hard-Boiled Detective." We all know that Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, but in this book Humpty's brother, Joe Dumpty, is a detective and investigates to find out what really happened to his brother. Did Humpty fall…or was he pushed off that wall? If he was pushed, who did it? Was it Little Miss Muffet, Goldilocks, Old Mother Hubbard, or the evil Big Bad Wolf? It’s a mystery.
This morning you are going to hear of a different kind of mystery…the mystery of the Holy Trinity. And even though the Trinity is a mystery, the main thing to understand about it is this: there is only ONE God. According to Holy Scripture, God is one in essence, but in this one essence there are three distinct Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the Christian doctrine of God. Three distinct persons but only one divine God! When Christ sends forth His disciples to teach all nations, He expressly commands them to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28:19) Jesus also declares: “The first of all the commandments is [this]: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord, our God, is one Lord. And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” (Mk. 12:29-30; cf. Dt. 6:4) Even St. Paul writes: “[O]ne Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all" (Eph. 4:5-6)
Got all this? Of course you do! Or do you? God is both Three and One at the same time. Put another way, God is three Persons in One Divine Essence, or one Divine Essence in three Persons. Strange? You bet it is. Irrational? Yes, but you understand it well enough to repeat it every week in either the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. And a short time ago, we confessed the words of the Athanasian Creed, which summarizes four hundred years of struggling to say it just the right way. You and I can describe God using words like “person” and “being” and “essence” and “substance” but we can’t really explain God or quite get who He is. How can something be both Three and One at the same time?
A way to try to wrap our heads around the Holy Trinity are by making Trinity analogies, such as a three-leaf shamrock…the skin, flesh, and seeds comprising an apple…a shell, a yolk, and an egg white comprising a chicken egg. There are more but you get the idea. These
Trinity analogies all fail because an infinite God cannot be fully explained in a finite illustration.
Every analogy leads to one of two errors or heresies about the Triune God. The first is called “modalism,” where you don’t have three distinct persons with a distinct relationship to each other. What you end up with are three modes of God’s presence. The other heresy is tri-theism – three gods. Islam accuses Christianity of Tritheism. If you lose the Persons, you will end up as either a Modalist or a Tritheist. If you lose the one Essence, you will wind up with three separate gods.
The best we can do on this side of heaven is distinguish the Persons – the Father is uncreated, unbegotten, not proceeding. The Son is begotten of the Father. And the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. That’s what distinguishes them. And yet there is but one God. And whenever God deals with us, all three Persons deal with us, each according to what is properly His. Indeed, you and I confess and worship three Distinct Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one Being or Essence called “God.” It’s really as simple as that.
So, there shouldn’t be an issue with confessing the Holy Trinity. It’s just impossible to rationalize…hence, the mystery. The best we can do is to say the Father sends His Son into the world to bear our sin and be our Savior. And the Son sends the Holy Spirit into the world to give you and me the gift of faith and to be our Counselor and Teacher. And that the core truth of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity centers on Jesus Christ. In Jesus…there in flesh and blood…is the eternal God, wanting to be with His problem-filled, sin-enslaved people…in order to set free His problem-filled, sin-enslaved people. In Jesus…there in flesh and blood…is the eternal God, this great God…the great I AM defeating the enemies that have defeated you – namely, sin, death, and the devil – and to restore you with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. In Jesus, you see God as He truly is…your God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - who loves you very much and makes you His own! Mystery solved! Amen
Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us. (Introit Antiphon)
The Day of Pentecost – Series B
Text: Acts 2:1-21
Title: “The Holy Spirit Is Still Working”
Date: Sunday, June 9, 2019
Pastor Steve Bocklage
“Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest, and make our hearts your place of rest, come with your grace and heavenly aid, and fill the hearts which you have made.”
Hundreds of times, the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit or Spirit of God or the “Spirit of truth”…but in our day, you don’t hear much about Him in Christian churches. When you do, He seems to “get a bad rap.” For instance, sometimes you’ll hear about people speaking in tongues, muttering sounds and gibberish. Sometimes you’ll hear about people suddenly falling down in the aisles at church and rolling around on the floor or breaking down and crying or laughing uncontrollably. You may have heard about people dancing and running up and down the aisles of the church. What in the world is happening? The explanation is: “They have been overcome by the Holy Spirit.” But is that what’s really happening? Is it the Holy Spirit’s job to cause these people to do these strange things? The answer is…NO! It seems that a lot of people get caught up in emotionalism…in the music, the swaying, and the crying. And they attribute that to the Holy Spirit. Many churches don’t even want to talk about the Spirit of God because they don’t want to be associated with these groups of people who look like they’re going off the deep end.
Today, you are going to hear about God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity. But first, let me say a few words about Pentecost…the day when God the Holy Spirit descended in a miraculous way on the disciples. Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims for Pentecost. Estimates put the crowds at over 150,000 people, which doesn’t sound like much to us, but it was huge number for that time. On one of the most crowded days of the year, Jesus brings His church out into the public for the first time. Because of this, church tradition has said that Pentecost is the church’s birthday.
This morning, you are going to come to understand that the Holy Spirit’s main job isn’t to cause people to fall down in the aisles or cry or laugh uncontrollably. In our Gospel reading, Jesus describes the work of the Holy Spirit and calls Him “Paracletos,” which is Greek for “Counselor” or “Helper” or Comforter.” Just imagine for a moment…waking up one day and finding out that you are being sued by someone. It’s a very complicated lawsuit – you don’t even understand it yourself. Who do you call? You call a lawyer…your legal counselor. He or she sits at your side…and explains all the complicated things about the law to you. Your legal counselor helps you to understand what’s going on, and what you need to do about the situation. Without your legal counselor, you’d be lost. In a similar way, without the Paracletos…the Counselor…the Holy Spirit…Christ’s disciples would be spiritually lost. Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to send them the Counselor and says: “[H]e will testify about me.” The Holy Spirit will come to them and cause them to understand and to believe everything that the Scriptures say about Jesus. That is the Holy Spirit’s job…to cause Jesus’ disciples to mature in their faith…to counsel or guide them in the truths of God’s Word…so that they can go out and testify about the Lord Jesus Christ to others.
We see that happening on Pentecost, the day Jesus promised He would send the Counselor…the Helper…the Comforter. Just like God breathed into Adam and he became a living being, so Christ breathes the Holy Spirit into His people…and His people come alive. We see this in our Second Reading for today. The disciples are gathered together, celebrating the spring harvest festival of Pentecost. Perhaps they are in the temple courts, where they always gathered together. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit descends on them in a special way. There is the sound of a rushing wind. Something like tongues of fire rest on their heads. Suddenly the disciples are able to speak in foreign languages, even though they have never gone to school to learn these languages. Then the Apostle Peter stands up, and for the first time in his life, gives a sermon to a group of unbelievers…those spiritually dead in sin. The result is another miraculous thing happens…3,000 people are raised to spiritual life by the Holy Spirit and come to faith on that one day.
Here, God the Holy Spirit does His job and works in a visible way and in a fast way. But today, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nothing visible…no signs, no rushing wind, no tongues of fire…and nothing fast. Maybe converts to Christianity here and there over a longer period of time, but not 3,000 in one day. And sometimes this frustrates us! Why doesn’t God the Holy Spirit work more quickly and more visibly in our day? We might be tempted to think: “Maybe God the Holy Spirit isn’t working anymore. Maybe the Bible and the Sacraments aren’t the way to go anymore.” “Maybe it’s all up to us now…to make God’s church grow…to convince people to believe in Jesus. It’s all up to us!” Indeed, groups of Christians sometimes get desperate. They throw out the Word of God and the Sacraments and try all different kinds of things, especially the emotional kinds of things…hoping to see the Holy Spirit work in a fast way and visible way.
Thankfully, Jesus forgives us for those times when we have fallen into that way of thinking. Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit’s main job isn’t to “wow” you with signs. His job isn’t to shock you with spectacular religious moments. His main job, as Jesus says, is to testify about the Savior. His job is to cause people to understand and to believe all the things that Jesus the Messiah has said and done for them. And just how does the Holy Spirit do this? He does this through the Word of God, which tells you that you’re a sinner whose sins have been taken away by the blood of Jesus Christ. God’s Word tells you that Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. God’s Word tells you that someday Jesus will return, and until He does, He promises to be with you in His Word and the Sacraments and to bless you.
Every time you hear or read the Word of God…that’s where you find the Holy Spirit. And He’s working! You most likely can’t see or feel His work. Certainly there’s no rushing wind or flames of fire resting on your head. But as you spend time in God’s Word, the Holy Spirit is working on you. He’s causing you to grow in your faith. He’s causing you to mature as a follower of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is equipping you to be able to share the Gospel of Jesus with others. He does this in a very slow and a very quiet way. That’s how He works, and yet, His work is very powerful, and very life-changing.
Years ago, engineers building a new bridge over the East River in New York discovered a wrecked hull of a ship, sunken many years before, lying right where the center piers were supposed to be built. Powerful machinery was brought in to remove the ship, but it wouldn’t budge. Then, one of the engineers had an unusual idea. Why not have the tide raise the ship. So strong cables were attached to the hull when the tide was low. The other ends were fastened to the barge above. As the tide came in, the barge gradually lifted the sunken ship up. It was then towed out into the ocean and sunk at a spot that would not cause future problems. (Illustration from sermoncentral.com). God the Holy Spirit is like the tide. He comes very quietly, very slowly. But He comes to you with a great deal of power. He lifts you up from unbelief to faith…and from weak faith to strong faith. He comes slowly and quietly. But never, ever underestimate His power! When you see someone baptized, you’re seeing the Holy Spirit working. When you take the Lord’s Supper, or when you see someone take the Lord’s Supper, you’re seeing the Holy Spirit working. It’s nothing flashy and it will not make a highlight film.
Yes…the Holy Spirit is still working…still changing and transforming people. As you hear or read and study His Word and make use of His Sacraments, be assured that God the Holy Spirit will keep working. He will never stop until the day our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ returns on Judgement Day. Amen.
The Ascension of Our Lord - Series B
Text: Acts 1:1-11 & Luke 24:44-53
Title: “Even More…Even Greater”
Date: Sun day, June 2, 2019
Pastor Steve Bocklage
Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!]. And this morning we also say: Alleluia! Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!].
The Ascension of our Lord, which is 40 days after Easter and 10 days before the Day of Pentecost, was one of the biggest festivals in the early church. It was bigger than Christmas and Easter! Hard to imagine that, isn’t it? Many churches are full on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday but few, if any, are full for Ascension Day. The early church knew this day was significant…not just for Jesus, but also for them. That something wonderful was happening for them. But what was it? What could they see with such clarity that we don’t today?
Leo the Great, an early church theologian who lived in the fifth century, said: “In Jesus and all His work for us, we have gained greater things than we had lost through the devil’s malice.” That’s quite a statement since sin has cost us greatly. We lost Paradise. We lost harmony with one another. We lost our fellowship with God. We lost our life. We lost the peace of a sinless world and now live in a world where hate, discord, and destruction are the norm. We live in a world where sadness and pain limit our joy and where things are so bad that many don’t even believe there is a God at all. They say something like: If there is a God, why is the world like this?
What they don’t realize is that they are missing something. What they are unable to recognize is this: It’s not God’s fault! It’s the fault of Adam and Eve…and it’s our fault and the fault of all other sinners! It’s the fault of Adam, whose sin plunged the world from perfection and life into brokenness and death. And it’s the fault of each of us sinners whose sin daily adds to all that. The discord, separation, pain, and sadness you and I experience are either through our actions or the actions of others, or our failure to act. We think we know better than God and can do better. For that…this is the world and life you and I have. Indeed, we have truly lost a lot.
Then there is your own life. Who among us has not personally experienced loss? The loss of health, of a loved one, of a friendship, of the thing which gives you joy? But God didn’t sit idly by. Your pain…pains the Lord because this is not how He created things to be for you. He deeply loves you! That’s why He sent His beloved Son to clean up our mess. In all Jesus did, He gave where there was loss. He gave sight and hearing…He gave cleansing…He gave strength, He gave hope and forgiveness. And then, when the world rejected Him again by crucifying Him on the cross…He gave life. He rose from the dead that you and I who die might live again!
And if God had stopped there, we could rightly say that Jesus had restored all that we lost. He had undone all that we did. All that was left now was to give this gift to all and abolish sin, death, and the devil to hell forever.
But Jesus did more than that: He ascended into heaven! And not just as true God when He came down from heaven…but also as a true man. That’s who Jesus is: simultaneously true God and true man…always both…not one or the other. He didn’t leave His human nature behind that He used for a while but was now done with it. No, our human nature ascends with Him into heaven…restored not just to an earthly paradise, but given even more: a heavenly one. Fully God and fully man, Christ ascended above and beyond the angels’ ranks and the archangels’ heights to the very right hand of the Father! In 1534, Martin Luther preached on Ascension Day and referred to Ephesians 4:8, which reads: “When [the Lord] ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to [men and women].” Martin Luther preached that Christ has made captive all those things that held us captive. Sin, death, devil, etc. no longer hold us captive. Christ has bound them in captivity on high. Since Christ has captured our captors, we are now free from the things that would hold us captive before God: sin, death, hell, and the devil.
Just as the Son of God came down from the heights to our depths…to be with us where we are…so in the same way you and I shall rise with Him from the depths to be with Him where He is…to a glory far greater than Adam’s and far greater than you or I can imagine. We are assured of this in Acts 1, where Dr. Luke writes that two men in white robes, we know as angels, stood by the disciples as they watched Jesus ascend into heaven. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw go into heaven.” (v11) Did you catch the connection? Do you see why Jesus’ ascension into heaven gives you comfort for the day when He returns? These two angels declare to the disciples that Jesus is going to return in the same way that they saw Him go into heaven. When Jesus Christ comes again in power and glory as “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:6) on the Last Day…on Judgement Day…the entire world will tremble before Him. Those who denied Christ will look for rocks to crawl under and caves to hide in. They will know the Lord at that time. Those who denied Christ will know Him only in terror.
What about you and me, who believe in Jesus as our Savior and Lord? It will be different! That’s why the disciples were filled with joy when Jesus ascended. They knew this. When Jesus died, they were sad and brokenhearted. When He rose from the dead, they were at first confused and scared. But over the course of the next forty days, our Lord “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45) and to proclaim in Christ’s name the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. Yet, you will hear some people try to use Jesus as a psychological crutch…as something to make you feel better. Others will try to tell you, “if you follow these 12 steps, Jesus will bless you with material wealth beyond your wildest dreams.” Some will even simply say, “Jesus...Buddah...Allah…they are all the same god. All you have to do is to believe what you want and be good, and you will go to heaven.”
But here’s the thing. You will not find any of these worldly ideas in the Word of God. Christ opened their minds…cleaned out all the junk…and then filled them with His absolute truth and joy! When the God-man ascended, they knew He was not leaving them. That’s because He promised to send them the Holy Spirit, and that through His Spirit He would continue to be with them. But they also knew Jesus was paving the way for them and preparing the place for them. (cf. Jn. 14:2-3)
From then on, His disciples went out and proclaimed Jesus. They proclaimed His forgiveness and they proclaimed His life. Even though they were arrested for it…beaten for it…and then killed for it…none of that mattered. The victory in Jesus was already theirs. They saw Him ascend, and they knew they were too. Whatever they lost…whatever this world could take away…Jesus had even more for them!
And so it is for you, as well. That’s all true for those who have been baptized into Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Where you go…He goes and where He goes…you go. Remember this…Jesus’ ascension doesn’t mean He is gone. It means exactly the opposite…that He is with you! Now reigning from the throne of God, far above and transcending all time and space…Christ is not just in Jerusalem or Galilee, but here with you, and in every place His Word and Sacraments are. The Lord continues providing for every loss, forgiving every sin, and comforting in every trouble and sadness. Alleluia! Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!] Amen